Top 12 Books of 2021

Hi everyone, it’s been a while hasn’t it! I hope you all had an excellent end to your 2021 and that 2022 is treating you well so far! I’ve been a busy bee recently – I moved into a flat with my girlfriend, I’ve done a whole medical translation course, work has been super busy – hence the disappearance, and I’ve also just not had a chance to read as much as I’d hoped. But today I’m here to bring you my top 12 books I read last year (better late than never!). These are in no particular order and not all of them are 2021 releases, but I read them all last year and loved them so much that I just needed to highlight them! So, without further ado, here are the top 12!

The Clinch by Nicole Disney was one of the very first books that I read in 2021 and I requested an ARC of it on a complete whim – I love sports romances and I was in the mood for a quick easy sapphic read – but I was completely blown away by it, and so was everyone else who reviewed it apparently!! This is a sapphic sports romance following MMA fighter Eden who grew up in a rough part of the city but found herself under the wing of the local Taekwondo dojo’s owner. Years later she is at the top of her game and is loving coaching the next generation, too. Then comes along the aggressive and cocky Brooklyn, of the famous Shaw family of MMA fighters, who directly challenges Eden to her world title. I’m not a huge fan of rivals to lovers but the romance in this blew me away – there is so much sexual tension between Eden and Brooklyn and it just makes the whole story all that much more engaging. I was a bit worried going in that a lot of the MMA references would go over my head, but Nicole Disney has an amazing way of bringing the reader into the story, that even someone who knows absolutely nothing about the sport won’t find themselves in over their head. If you’re looking for a solid sapphic romance then I highly, highly recommend that you pick this one up!

I read so many wonderful nonfiction books last year, but none of them stuck with me quite like Mouths of Rain edited by Briona Simone Jones did. This book is pretty much what it says on the tin – it’s an anthology of Black lesbian thought. It’s an amazing collection of essays, short stories, poems, memoirs, articles, and so much more written by a plethora of Black lesbian authors. There is some slightly overly-academic writing in this which does make it a tad inaccessible at times, but the importance of the content in here completely overrides that. If you pick up one nonfiction book in 2022, let it be this one!

If I had to pick one overall favourite of the year, I can hands-down say that Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers would win that prestigious title! This was my most anticipated book of the year, and I can safely say that it did not let me down. The book dealing with having to live up to her parents’ expectations of her, and struggling in a job market that just doesn’t seem to want her. And then she gets married in Vegas one night, to the beautiful and wild Yuki who hosts a late night radio show for lonely people. Grace decides that she needs a break and so takes off to New York to be with Yuki, and learns some heavy truths while doing so. I am not exaggerating when I say that I literally sobbed the whole time while reading this book. I had not long graduated from uni myself when I read it, and graduated into a job market that had been severely hit by Covid (plus, as the oldest child and grandchild, I was dealing with so much pressure from my family, whether they meant it or not), and I saw myself so much in Grace. The romance was so, so sweet and I loved the supporting characters so much. I genuinely cannot begin to recommend this book enough and it truly deserves all the hype that it gets. I already can’t wait to re-read it in 2022 and fully annotate it – though I am a bit scared by all the sobbing again!

Twenty twenty-one was the year that I finally picked up one of sapphic ya royalty, Malida Lo’s, books, and it was a good one! Last Night at the Telegraph Club follows Lily Hu who stumbles upon an advert for a male impersonator in a newspaper and her curiosity gets the better of her. When a classmate, Kathleen Miller, picks up her dropped newspaper cut-out, she reveals to Lily that she has been to the impersonator’s show before and Lily, excited to find someone to share this excitement with, asks her to take her along. The two visit the Telegraph Club – a lesbian bar – under the cloak of moonlight and a whole new world is opened up to them. However, in 1950s San Francisco, homophobia is not the only thing that Lily has to look out for – her father is under suspicion of treating a communist who visits his Chinese doctors’ surgery, and Lily’s relationship with her best friend is on the rocks. But when Lily starts slowly falling in love with another girl, it feels like the most right thing in the world. This was such a gorgeous historical fiction novel (that also made me cry) and I absolutely adored the representation of the butch/femme dynamic. Coming from Scotland, I also didn’t know much about the Red Scare coming into this story, and I learned so much too! Every time I see someone picking this book up at the book store it makes me so excited for them, and I can’t wait to read more by Malinda in 2022!

Though I read quite a few of them last year, the only graphic novel on this list (and so far the only book not released in 2021) is the wonderful On A Sunbeam by Tillie Walden. This is an adventurous and heartfelt story following our main character, Mia, across two timelines – the first when she is at boarding school and starts to develop feelings for a new student, and the second after she has graduated and is working on a team that rebuilds ruined but gorgeous structures. Not only was this graphic novel one of the most brilliant sci-fi stories that I’ve ever read, but it also features one of the best found families that I’ve read. Sometimes I feel that in graphic novels there isn’t enough time to fully flesh out the characters, but I really did love every single one of them – and as a plus, the whole cast of characters are women and nonbinary people which is so amazing!! I am so emotionally attached to this graphic novel and I did proceed to read almost all of Tillie Walden’s works after this one, and I’m not gonna lie, I would love a sequel to this!!

I was not the one who actually picked up this next book, which makes it all the more exciting that it got to my favourites list! While my girlfriend and I visited the wonderful Lighthouse Books in Edinburgh, we each picked out a book for each other, and she picked out Love Bites by Ry Herman for me – and I’m so glad that she did! This was honestly one of the most enjoyable rom-coms I’ve ever read! The best way I can describe it is that it’s a sapphic paranormal-rom-com featuring a goth vampire studying a PHD in astronomy, a depressed twenty-something working in publishing who has to sort through the piles of rubbish stories many of which involve angels or weird fish tank BDSM, a great-aunt who just wont move out and who might have met Sappho, and a nice but dim flatmate who has started his own religion, oh and a bizarre cat called Entropy, but even that doesn’t do it justice! Ry Herman’s writing is so hilarious and I literally laughed out loud several times while reading this. Nonetheless, it still tackles some difficult topics, such as depression and abusive relationships. I’m yet to pick up the sequel but just know that it’s top of the list of my 2022 reads!

Speaking of hilarious books, next on my list of top books is Not My Problem by Ciara Smyth. I read Ciara’s debut novel The Falling in Love Montage last year and really enjoyed it, but Not My Problem was good on a whole other level! The book follows Aideen who’s life isn’t going as smoothly as she’d perhaps hope – she’s failing pretty much every class at school, her best friend seems to have other best friends, and her mum’s drinking again even though she promised she wouldn’t. But one morning, Aideen walks in on headteacher’s daughter and all round annoying polymath, Meabh Kowalska, mid-breakdown in the PE.. changing rooms and everything changes. Meabh convinces Aideen to push her down the stairs so she can injure herself just enough to get out of her many responsibilities, and Aideen is all too happy to help. But soon, Aideen finds herself at the centre of an enterprise fixing other people’s problems but at the expense of her very own. This really did read like a combination of Derry Girls and Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging – and I loved it! So much of Meabh’s school and home life reminded me of my own growing up in Scotland, especially the language used – and don’t get me started on how much I adored Every Single Character! This book really was such a joy to read and really does deserve its spot on my top books of 2021!

The second non-2021 release on my list is Jade City by Fonda Lee. This book had been sitting on my shelves for years so I was really excited to buddy read this with some members of the Celestial Book Club and I’m so glad that I finally looked past its daunting adult high fantasy chunkiness because I could not put this book down for the life of me! Jade City follows the Kaul family of the No Peak clan – one of two rival gangs that can wield jade magic (Green Bones) and that hold control over the city of Janloon. As clan rivalries start heating up in the city, things start changing for the clan, for Green Bones, and for the country as a whole. I really can’t go into this book in too much detail for fears of spoiling something, but this book was incredible! Fonda Lee managed to mix intense political intrigue with high action fight scenes so amazingly well, and made me either love every character or absolutely loath them (…Bero). I have already read the second book in the series, Jade War, and I’m both so excited and terrified to read the final book in the trilogy!

I read so many amazing books by indie authors in 2021, but one of my absolute favourites has got to be Bloody Spade by Brittany M. Willows. Bloody Spade follows Ellen Jane, recent Joker graduate and magical ‘crime’-fighter, who sneaks her way into a dangerous Void-related mission only to find her fate entangled with that of Iori Ryone, the notoriously dangerous cat-eared Keeper of the legendary corrupt Spade. But as the pair grow to trust each other, danger is lurking on the horizon in the form of infamous Blackjack organisation who are trying to unearth something that will change the world as they know it. This book has been described as anime-esque and it is honestly the perfect way to describe Brittany’s writing style – it really is as if you’re watching an action-packed, super queer magical girl anime! I loved the unique world that was built in this book, and the characters were written so well that I found myself getting so attached to them. If you like seeing characters in more domestic settings as well as in the heat of the action, then you will love this book, as it’s one of my favourite things to read and it was done so well. I could gush forever about this book, but for your benefit, maybe it’s best if you just go and read it yourself!!

Thanks to the Sapphic Stories Bookclub, 2021 was the year that I finally picked up Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir after everyone and their mum seems to have read it before me! Again, I don’t even know where to begin to describe this book – partially because it’s so complex and twisty that I don’t want to spoil anything, and partially because I was completely lost for the first half of the book anyway! Countless people have described this book as being ‘lesbian necromancers in space’ and I think it fits the book so well (and if that doesn’t make you want to pick it up, I really don’t know what will). Though I’m not a huge fan of hate-to-love in general, Tamsyn Muir wrote it so so well that it ended up on my top books of the year! This book was hilarious and there were so many amazing plot twists alongside incredible worldbuilding that I was just so blown away by the magnitude of this book. And, yeah, I have to mention that Gideon Nav is just so hot (what can I say…I love a muscly butch sword lesbian!).

A book that just truly grabbed me in at the end of the year is Becky Chambers’ stunning A Psalm for the Wild-Built, which is the first in a new series of queer cottagecore-esque sci-fi novellas. This first novella follows tea monk, Sibling Dex, as they decide to give up their old life in a monastery and take up the career of tea monk. While taking their business across the land, Sibling Dex decides to take it upon themselves to head out into the wilderness, on a sort of pilgrimage of their own, as they don’t feel truly content in the life they have. Whilst in the wilderness, they come across a robot, and is the first human to do so after the robot species wandered into the wild, not to be seen for centuries. The robot – Splendid Speckled Mosscap – asks Dex a question: “what do people need?” – but it can’t leave without its answer. And so the pair take up Sibling Dex’s pilgrimage to an abandoned and overgrown monastery together. As an agender person, I was so excited to pick this book up because both Sibling Dex and Mosscap are agender and they’re the first agender main characters that I had ever come across, so already this book meant so much to me. But that combined with Becky Chambers’ gorgeous cottagecore worldbuilding, delightful characters, and deep underlying meaning really lodged this book right into my heart. And, unsurprisingly, yes, the ending did make me cry!

The last book in my top 12 books of 2021 is the only poetry – or, rather, poetry-adjacent – book to appear on this list, despite the several wonderful ones that I read last year. Baby Teeth by Meg Grehan is a novel told in verse and follows Immy, a vampire with an insatiable thirst, who is given a yellow rose by Claudia. Though Immy has been in love several times throughout her many lifetimes, she has never known love like this before, and Claudia herself has never felt so in love either. But Immy’s thirst for blood, as well as all the wrongs of her past lives, start clamouring inside her head, affecting her relationship with herself and Claudia. I picked this book up on a complete whim because I loved novels written in verse and the cover looked pretty gay, and I am so glad that I did. Not only is this a truly unique take on vampirism, but I loved the inherent queerness of it all. Meg Grehan’s writing is so lyrical and gorgeous and the rhythm and cadence of the verse suited the book so perfectly. Though this is definitely not the cheeriest or brightest love story in this list, I highly recommend it because it was just so, so beautiful!

Overall, I had a pretty good reading year in 2021, and here’s hoping to an even better one to come in 2022! Stay safe and Happy (belated) New Year!

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